Direct action

A direct action is any activity that strives for social, political or economic change outside of accepted political channels. It can be anything from a sit-in to a march, to graffiti. Non-violent direct action is one of the most effective forms of protests activists can use within an ongoing campaign. Actions with predetermined political contexts are often much more effective than unorganized gatherings. This guide includes:

Uses of direct action
Nonviolent vs violent

Direct actions are used as:

A form of alarm (a situation has changed or an injustice has been committed and the action alerts the general public)

A type of education (the issue of a campaign remains misunderstood, the action is used to raise awareness and clarify)

Punctuation (a dramatic reminder that an issue has yet to be resolved, or the observation of a milestone)

Escalation (a direct action attempts to raise the stakes of a current struggle by sending a message)

Morale-booster (when activists become discouraged or feel as though their efforts aren't working, direct action can have a real impact and raise spirits)

Nonviolent vs violent

Direct actions can be violent, such as destroying public property during a march. Activists have debated the effectiveness of these methods. Many activists believe that true change cannot be achieved through violent means but the debate still rages on. When it comes down to it, any violent direct action is less likely to end positively. They frequently result in arrests, justification for police brutality and crackdowns and sometimes reinforce stereotypes about activists.

Nonviolent direct action, such as civil disobedience has been proven to work. These kinds of actions have led to revolutions, changes of government and other major gains for activists. When considering "hard" vs "soft" power activists can feminize nonviolent action as ineffective or purely symbolic. Nonviolent action can cause change, but they call it a struggle for a reason - it's not easy.


The Ruckus Society has a comprehensive guide about how to organize a direct action. From philosophy to the actually planning of an action, the guide covers the basics of any direct action.

The Ruckus Society has also developed this new guide with the help of rabble blogger Jessica Bell that goes beyond the basics. It contains easy to understand outlines and frameworks to help shape direct actions, as well as case studies of success. It also lists further tools at the end to supplement direct actions and other forms of organizing.

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